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Blackwell plans return to school

Three months after the NCAA declared him academically ineligible to play for South Florida this season, it appears quarterback Marquel Blackwell will become a Bull after all.

Blackwell, the Times' 1995 Pinellas County Player of the Year as a junior at Dixie Hollins, re-took his SAT in October and scored 1,000, well above what he needed to qualify, said his father, Mark Blackwell. He plans to enter USF in January so he can participate in spring practices.

"He wants to go (to the school)," Mark Blackwell said. "They want him. So everything is okay."

USF coach Jim Leavitt wouldn't comment on Blackwell specifically Sunday, but did say the coaching staff had gotten word on test results it had been waiting for. Mark Blackwell said he thought the announcement would be made once his son's paperwork was in order.

Marquel Blackwell did not find out he was ineligible until August, when the NCAA ruled that one of the classes he took at Dixie Hollins could not be used toward his core grade-point average.

That meant his core GPA dropped, which required him to raise his SAT score to be eligible under the NCAA's sliding scale.

DEFENSIVE-MINDED: Leavitt is somewhat concerned about the difficulty the offense has had recently in putting together scoring drives. But right now, he worries more about building a solid run defense.

Leavitt was dismayed that the Bulls (3-5) allowed 131 rushing yards in Saturday's 24-6 victory over Charleston Southern, especially considering the Bucs (1-7) had averaged 84.9 yards in their previous seven games.

USF can afford to take time to develop its pass-oriented attack, he said, if it can stop opponents first.

"I know we have to work on our offense," Leavitt said. "I know that. But if we can shore up our defense we'll be in every game."

FAN OF THE FANS: Despite the fact that more than half the people who bought tickets for the past two home games haven't attended (13,135 no-shows Saturday and 17,004 the game before), Leavitt said he is not bothered. He understands the Bulls have to win to pack them in.

"That's hard for me to be discouraged by the crowd," Leavitt said. "I think it's been great. The support we've gotten here has been unbelievable. I think what happened is you had so many come to the first game, and everybody's comparing it to that 49,000."

At Kansas State, where Leavitt was co-defensive coordinator, the Wildcats had just 9,000 season-ticket holders his first year, and didn't start drawing 40,000 or more until his seventh year.

"At Kansas State, hunting season came and everybody was gone," Leavitt said.

BUTLER DID IT AGAIN: Freshman LB Jason Butler of Bartow, who has started only the past two games, led the defense in tackles again. He had 11 against Charleston Southern, one more than Demetrius Woods. Butler had 13 tackles against Southern Illinois and is third on the team with 46.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Bulls face NAIA Division I Cumberland in Lebanon, Tenn., Saturday. USF will be looking for its first road victory in four tries.

Last year, operating out of the wing-T, Cumberland led the nation _ both the NCAA and NAIA, all divisions _ in rushing yardage per game at 369.